The heavy-hearted family of a Chelsea man police said was murdered in cold blood by a reputed MS-13 gang member still cannot understand why the alleged quick-triggered assassin would target a father who, in his final words, simply acknowledged he was of Puerto Rican descent.
The case goes to trial on Monday, but the senseless slaying has churned up a long-rumored undercurrent of brutal gang reprisals in the city.
Santos Portillo is accused of walking up to 38-year-old Braulio Gomez in July of 2011 and shooting him dead without provocation. Gomez was sitting in front of his mother’s Chelsea home when the then-21-year-old opened fire, authorities said.
According to authorities, Portillo questioned Gomez and others on the porch in the moments before the shooting, asking, “Where are you from?” and what “set”—or gang—they were with. When Gomez said they were in no gang and that they were from Puerto Rico, authorities said Portillo “asserted” he was a member of Mara Salvatrucha—or MS-13, the notorious Central American street gang—pulled out a gun and fired one round that killed the unarmed Gomez.
Witnesses have since told a grand jury investigating the case of an “ongoing conflict with individuals from MS-13 and individuals of Puerto Rican descent” in Chelsea, according to court filings. The fear for some has been so real, one witness moved out of Chelsea while another remains in out-of-state witness protection, prosecutors said.
Chelsea police said it hasn’t hit their radar, especially considering MS-13 presence is “minimal” compared to where it was a decade ago. “There’s no record of Puerto Ricans being attacked by people alleging to be MS-13,” said Chelsea Capt. Keith Houghton,
The dynamic, however, is one community leaders said has long been floated in the streets.
“I’ve definitely heard it from time to time,” said Dana Betts, programming director for Roca, a Chelsea non-profit that for 25 years has worked with high-risk youths to get them off the street and into work programs. “I can say from what I see that it doesn’t seem that evident, that it’s what defines the back and forth that goes on.”